Panthers to honor 2022 Hall of Fame class this week

Photos by McKinleyville High – Brad Warze

The McKinleyville Panthers are celebrating Homecoming this week and will be inducting a new Hall of Fame class, which this year includes one representative from each of the six decades in school history.

This year’s inductees are Donna Sorensen (class of 1964), Paul Grooms (1973), Daphne Yeager (1984), Ryan Johnston (1996), Michael Larson (2008) and McKenzie Ford (2012), as well as distinguished coach, Brad Warze.

Sorensen played three years of tennis at McKinleyville at a time when there were limited opportunities for female athletes, and she enjoyed a career winning percentage of well over .500.

She was named team captain for her senior year and was the winner of the Outstanding Athlete Award.

Sorensen was also a member of the Judo Club. 

Grooms played four sports for the Panthers — football, basketball, baseball and track and field —  earning a total of seven varsity letters.

As a senior, he played in the North/South Rotary All -tar game in football and was named team MVP in basketball.

On the baseball field, he was selected to the all-league team in 1973 and was named team MVP after batting .391 and leading the league in home runs.

As a senior he also finished second in league in the discus and he capped an outstanding high school career by winning the 1973 Jay Willard Athlete of the Year Award for Humboldt/Del Norte Counties.

Daphne Yaeger

Yeager participated in two varsity sports at McKinleyville High School — volleyball and softball — and earned a total of six varsity letters. 

Known as a fiercely competitive athlete and an extremely positive leader, she received two all-league selections and was twice named team MVP in volleyball.

She also led the team to a Big 5 championship in 1983.

Yeager also excelled on the softball diamond, starting at third base for three seasons, and she would go on to play volleyball at Humboldt State where she was named the team captain during her final season.

Johnston, meanwhile, participated in two sports, earning four varsity letters in baseball and three in basketball.

Johnston was a starter on the 1995-96 basketball team that won a first Dick Niclai championship in school history.

In baseball, he earned all-league honors as a junior after helping lead the Panthers to a Big 5 pennant and a North Coast Section 2A championship.

As a senior in 1996, he batted .426, was 6-1 on the mound and was named Big 5 Conference MVP after leading the team to a second consecutive Big 5 title.

From left to right, Donna Sorensen, McKenzie Ford and Paul Grooms.

Following high school, Johnston played baseball at Mendocino College and then played one season at the University of Arkansas, before returning to California to play at Sonoma State.

He was taken in the 31st round of the MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies and played Rookie Ball at Batavia, New York, and in the South Atlantic League for the Clearwater Phillies.

Larson earned varsity letters in three sports — wrestling, football and track and field — and was a starter for two years on the varsity football team, earning all-league honors as a senior.

He earned three varsity letters in wrestling and capped a memorable career by winning the NCS title in 2008 at 189 pounds and placing seventh at the state tournament.

Larson attended the University of Missouri where he was a 4-time National Qualifier, a Big 12 champion in 2012 and an NCAA Division-I All-American in 2013.

Ryan Johnston

He completed his wrestling career with a national championship in Greco Roman wrestling in 2015.

Ford participated in three sports — golf, basketball and softball — and earned 11 varsity letters.

She was a three-year varsity starter in softball and was named all-league as a junior after helping lead the Panthers to a Big 5 championship and an appearance in the NCS Division-IV championship game. 

In basketball, she was a four-year varsity player on a dominating program that won over 100 games during that time, as well as four Big 5 titles and four Dick Niclai championships.

Ford also dominated in H-DNL girls golf, earning four all-league awards and winning the individual title three times. 

She also won back-to-back individual titles in the NCS and went on to play golf collegiately at Boise State University where she ranks seventh in career scoring average.

Warze, meanwhile, joined the Panthers in 1980 after a successful stint coaching at St. Bernard’s, where he led the Crusaders to NCS titles in football (1976) and baseball (1977).

After joining the Panthers, he led the school to a first-ever NCS appearance in boys basketball in 1985.

Warze also spent time as an assistant football coach at both College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State

Michael Larson

In 2000, Warze was named the head coach of the girls varsity basketball team and his tenure was marked a tremendous run of success, including four consecutive Big 5 championships, seven straight appearances in the Dick Niclai Tournament, and four Dick Niclai titles. 

All of the inductees will be honored at the Hall of Fame reception on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the school’s multi-purpose room and they will serve as the Grand Marshals for the Homecoming Parade on Friday.

They will also be introduced prior to the start of Friday night’s football game against Hoopa.

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